[FOUNTAIN]Emulate ancestors’ resolve“Scops owl, scops owl / We cannot cook much since the pot is small / This year having a meal is even a worry since rice is rare / Now we worry that there is no food, not that the pot is small.” This comes from the poem “Jeongso,” written by Jangyu during the mid-Joseon Dynasty. The title comes from the Korean word Sojjeok, which means scops, or screech, owl. The pronunciation of Sojjeok is similar to the words that mean “the pot is small,” since pot is sot and small is jakda. The Chinese character for small pot is read jeongso. This poem uses the pronunciation and meaning of a Chinese character to describe a bird and its sound, and uses it as a homonym to write about reality.
Jeongso describes the famine that the peasants have met. The thoughtless owl cries out “Sojjeok,” saying the pot is small but the reality is the peasants could not find even a grain of rice, no matter how hard they looked inside the grain-chest.
For the peasant, even a bowl of gruel is rare. “The gruel is not cooking well since there is too much water and not enough rice / ...There isn’t enough gruel, please don’t refuse to eat.” Jangyu writes in his poem “Jikjuk (Bulbul)” that being able to gulp down gruel is lucky.
Koreans endured this period in history. For them, rice was flesh and blood. It was treated religiously and they believed rice contained a god. Annually, they put new rice in the rice jar and cooked the old rice only for family members because they believed it contained a god of happiness. The customs of not taking rice out of the home in the new year and of preparing top quality rice for pregnant women was also because rice, god and blessing were all seen as one. Sunmu from the Chinese Song Dynasty said, “In Goryeo, they call rice the Buddhist saint.”
Since rice was both flesh and god, the love for rice our ancestors had was quite impressive. Why else would they say, “Ten pots of my rice is better than one barn full of a neighbor’s rice,” or “Never reveal your heart or your rice jar to anyone.” The farmers that inherited this mindset have met an obstacle. A bill to ratify Korea’s agreement with other rice-exporting countries awaits passage by the National Assembly. Farmers have picketed in the streets. However, nothing will change, even if they do succeed in halting the bill’s passage. What would our ancestors have done in this situation? Wouldn’t they have overcome the difficulty with the same endurance shown going through the famine and with the pride of cherishing their ten pots of rice? To compete with imported cheap rice the farmers need support from the government but, above all, their resolution to survive is more important.
by Lee Sang-il
The writer is a deputy international news editor at the JoongAng Ilbo.